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Suicide bomber kills Afghan official amid fears for future of international mission
Afghanistan Violenc 5317517
An Afghan police man stand guard near the site of an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008. A suicide bomber exploded a car Thursday next to an Afghan army bus in Kabul, killing one person and wounding four others, while authorities in the east said they found the decapitated bodies of four road construction workers. - photo by Associated Press
    KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber blew himself up Thursday in a mosque in southern Afghanistan, killing a deputy provincial governor and five other people in another blow to President Hamid Karzai’s U.S.-backed government.
    The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which came as U.S. officials were warning that the six-year mission to stabilize Afghanistan faces a crisis due to Taliban resilience and weakening international resolve.
    Pir Mohammad, deputy governor of Helmand province, was attending noon prayers at the mosque in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah when the bomber struck, according to police chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal.
    At least 18 people, including two children, were wounded by the blast, Andiwal said.
    Haji Ikramullah, who was walking to the mosque when the explosion occurred, said he saw bodies inside and wounded people shrieking in pain.
    A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, claimed responsibility for the attack, which he said was carried out by an Afghan named Qudratullah from the eastern province of Paktia, one of the centers of Taliban resistance.
    Helmand province is the center of world’s opium and heroin production and the scene of intense fighting between militants and U.S., British and Afghan forces, which claim to have killed thousands of Taliban fighters.
    Also Thursday, a suicide bomber attacked an Afghan army bus in Kabul, the capital, killing one civilian and wounding a soldier and three other people.
    Karzai condemned the attacks as ‘‘brutal and terrorist acts’’ carried out by the ‘‘enemies of Afghanistan’’ against ‘‘innocent civilians and Muslim people.’’
    The assaults raise fears that a resurgent Taliban will step up their suicide attacks, which have raised alarm in Washington and other Western capitals over the future of the six-year mission to stabilize Afghanistan.
    The Taliban launched more than 140 suicide missions last year — the most since they were ousted from power in late 2001 by the U.S.-led invasion that followed the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
    This week, an independent study co-chaired by retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones and former U.N. Ambassador Thomas Pickering warned that Afghanistan risks becoming a failed state because of deteriorating international support and the growing Taliban insurgency.
    The study concluded the United States risks losing the ‘‘forgotten war’’ in Afghanistan unless it re-energize anti-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where al-Qaida is regrouping.
    But the United States remains heavily committed in Iraq with about 160,000 troops. Plans call for reducing that figure to about 130,000 by July, although U.S. officials have signaled they may suspend the drawdown by midyear to determine whether they can hold on to security gains with fewer American troops.
    At the same time, NATO’s European members are refusing to send soldiers to Afghanistan’s dangerous south, opening a rift between the U.S., Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and others which have borne the brunt of fighting.
    The U.S. contributes one-third of NATO’s 42,000-member International Security Assistance Force mission, making it the largest participant. That does not include the 12,000 to 13,000 American troops operating independently.
    Canada is threatening not to extend its military mission in Afghanistan after next year unless another NATO country sends more soldiers to the south. Canada, which maintains 2,500 troops in Kandahar province, has lost 78 soldiers and one diplomat.
    Afghan officials have often been targeted by the Taliban as part of their campaign to weaken Karzai’s government, which has been increasingly isolated in Kabul and other major cities.
    Rather than attacking heavily armed U.S. and other international troops, the Taliban often have preferred to go after easier targets — such as provincial officials and Afghan security forces — with suicide bombers and roadside bombs.
    Last year, suicide bombers in the eastern province of Khost tried three times to kill Gov. Arsallah Jamal. Although the governor survived, a number of his guards were killed.
    In September 2006, a suicide bomber killed Paktia’s governor, Abdul Hakim Taniwal. Six other people died when a suicide bomber attacked Taniwal’s funeral.
    More than 6,500 people — mostly insurgents — died in the violence last year, according to an Associated Press count of figures provided by local and international officials.
    On Wednesday, militants beheaded four construction workers and dumped their bodies by a roadside in the eastern province of Nuristan, according to deputy provincial police chief Mohammad Daoud Nadim. The four were kidnapped 10 days ago while working on a road project, Nadim said.
    Associated Press writers Amir Shah and Rahim Faiez in Kabul contributed to this report.

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